A Forgotten Reformer

Posted by in Bible & Theology, Church & Missions

Can anyone recommend a decent biography on John Wycliffe? How about Jan Hus? Tyndale? Luther? Zwingli? Calvin? Knox? Foxe?

How about Valera?

Of course, I’m referring to Cipriano de Valera. I’ve looked in vain for a decent and thorough biography of the man. Valera was a Spanish Reformer, following on the heels of Martin Luther and John Calvin. Unfortunately, the Reformation never caught on in Spain like it did in Germany, Switzerland, England, and elsewhere. As such, much of the history of Spanish Reformers has been neglected in modern works. The most mentioned Spaniards in these textbooks are Miguel de Villanueva (better known as Michael Servetus) and Carlos I of Spain (better known as Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor).

Despite a lack of emphasis on Spanish Reformers, they played their part in history. The Reina-Valera translation of the Bible stands as the most popular Spanish Bible translation today and has thus far succeeded against modern translations where the King James Version has not. Cipriano de Valera served as the Spanish translation’s chief editor after his good friend Casiodoro de Reina passed away.

Though I know relatively little and am still in pursuit of a descent biography, I felt it worth sharing what little I could find through GoogleBooks. A snippet from a relatively short biography directed me to a work written by Valera in 1594, A Treatise to Confirm the Captives of Barbary.

As I sought to find a quote the biographer refers to (“And pray for Spain”), I became enraptured with the last section of the treatise.

Suffering for Christ
The Barbary captives had suffered much opposition from both the Roman Catholics in Spain and from their captors, Muslim pirates along the Barbary Coast. Cipriano de Valera sought to encourage them in their plight to live out their faith and be faithful to Christ.

It reminds me of the language of Paul’s letters and Peter’s letters. Valera’s pen drips with Scripture. His language is both beautiful and surprisingly easy to translate. I’ve not found an English translation, so I translated it myself:

Be firm in the faith and in the midst of your intolerable labors; in your prisons and dungeons meditate on what you have read or heard from the Holy Scripture. Remember what your Redeemer suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you also might suffer for Him.

Be resolved in this (which will make your labors very easy): that what you suffer in this time for Christ does not compare nor pertains to the coming glory, which, by Christ, has been manifested to you. What you now suffer is temporal; at the end, the end, it has to end; but the glory that you hope to enjoy, and will enjoy, will be eternal, it will never ever end.

Invoke, then, the Lord, that He assist you and give you strength so that you would not only believe in Him, but that you would continuously endure for His name. It might be that the Lord wants to serve as your means to convert some of them who now persecute you.

I will conclude, then, my long argument with what Saint Paul, in Ephesians 6:5, says speaking with slaves and captives like you. “Slaves,” he says (or captives), “obey your masters according to the flesh with trembling and fear, with simplicity of your heart, as to Christ. Not serving the eye like those who please men but as slaves of Christ eagerly doing the will of God, serving the Lord with good will and not men. Being certain that the good that each one does will receive from the Lord, whether slave or free.”

Accept, my brothers, dearly beloved in the Lord, my good will to do some good and service to you: what I have been able to do I did; His Majesty will supply the rest.

Pray to the Father of mercies for His holy, catholic, and apostolic church, that He would preserve and guard it from the decretals of the Pope, the Talmud of the Jews, and the Quran of Mohammed. Pray for our Spain and principally for the king and for all those who have [charge over] the government of the republic, that God give them the grace to read and meditate on the Holy Scripture, without knowledge of which it is impossible for them (as by the same Scripture and by the ancient doctors we have already sufficiently covered) to do their duty, nor for their subjects to be well-governed in the true fear of God: pray also for me.

I am certain that God hears the prayers of the captives and the groans and sighs of the afflicted, which you are when you invoke Him “with faith and not doubting anything because the one who doubts,” as it says in James 1:6, “is like a wave of the sea that is tossed by the wind and is thrown one way and another. Certainly don’t think that such a man will receive anything from the Lord, etc.”

I truly remember you in my prayers, asking the Father of mercies to add to your faith, give you patience in your afflictions and captivity, make you firm in the confession of His name, and enrich you with His spiritual gifts, so that when the Lord comes to judge the living and the dead He might find you as such, having made you as such, saying: Come, blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

To the one who, with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns eternally, be glory and honor forever. Amen.

[translation, paragraphing, and minor punctuation edits mine]

Had the Reformation caught on in Spain I have no doubt that we would be reading his writings just as much as those of Calvin, Luther, and others. It is my hope that as more Hispanics come to faith in Christ they will develop a holy curiosity about their faith heritage. As they study and learn, they will write and share. And who knows? Perhaps in our day we may see the English speaking peoples introduced to these forgotten Reformers who were willing to lose everything for the sake of gaining Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Boehmer, Edward & Benjamin B. Wiffen. (1904). Bibliotheca Wiffeniana: Spanish Reformers of Two Centuries from 1520. Karl J. Trübner: Strassburg. Google Books. Digitized May 15, 2008.

Cipriano de Valera. (1854). Tratado para Confirmar en la Fe Cristiana a los Cautivos de Berbería. Reformistas Antiguos Españoles, Tomo VIII. I.R. Baroja. Google Books. Digitized Jul 3, 2008.